Volleyball eliminated from NCAA tourney

By Mike Czapar

The 2004 Illinois women’s volleyball team won a game against a team that had not fallen in its last 54 games. However, that win alone was not enough, as Friday night the Illini were eliminated in four games from the NCAA tournament by Louisville.

The Illinois squad has experienced its shares of ups and downs this season due to injuries and inconsistent play.

Head coach Don Hardin said the tournament loss was unfortunate but that he was happy that his team played tough.

“We’re obviously disappointed not to advance to the next round, but I was really proud of the way the team has played and fought through adversity all year,” Hardin said. “We’ve been through a lot of challenges this year – some that were published and some that were not -ÿand I’m really proud of how we handled it.”

Illinois played tough in the first game, competing with an excellent hitting and blocking Cardinal team, thanks to a couple of big blocks by redshirt freshman Jen Hynds and several timely kills by the Illini offense. Still, Illinois fell short as Louisville edged the Illini 30-27.

The Illini bounced back in the second game, dominating the majority of the game and going on to defeat the Cardinals convincingly, 30-21. Led by junior Rachel VanMeter’s nine kills and junior Rasa Virsilaite’s four kills and two solo blocks, the Illini looked impressive in game two, out-hitting Louisiville .302 to .071.

Despite the turnaround from game one, game three was all Louisville as the Cardinals never trailed en route to a 30-19 victory. The Illini worked hard in game four, but the Louisville attack proved to be too much, as the Cardinals closed the match with a win in the final game.

Hardin said the Illini were surprised by a Louisville team whose ability was much greater than its scouting had indicated.

“The Louisville defense was much stronger than what we had seen on tape,” Hardin said. “They weren’t really challenged by many of their conference opponents, so we didn’t really expect the block to be so strong.”

Throughout the entire match, the Illini struggled to counter the Cardinal block that tallied 12 team blocks. On the other side of the net, the Louisville offense was no less impressive, led by a balanced attack that featured three players with double-figure kills.

Hardin said a deciding factor in the match was the consistency the Cardinals brought to every point.

“I think they were more consistent than us across the board,” Hardin said. “They’re very strong serving, passing and on defense. They went on to beat Missouri after us, and I think they are very capable of knocking off the No. 1 seed Nebraska.”

The Illini finish the season 19-11.

Despite leaving the tournament early, Hardin said he was very pleased with the squad’s performance all year, especially with the play of the seniors.

“We had a really great senior class, and we’ll miss them a lot,” Hardin said. “They were a very successful team who averaged 20 wins a season, qualified for the NCAA tournament three times and were all excellent players.”